< Air Pollution: Dr. Abhinandan Bhardwaj explains science behind Air Pollution

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Air Pollution

Science Behind Air Pollution

Dr. Abhinandan Bhardwaj PhD


What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is a mixture of natural and human induced matter in the air  such as harmful substances produced by the burning of fossil fuels, ground-level ozone, smog, and  gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and chemical vapors.

How Air Pollution Effects Humans ?

Epidemiological  effects of air pollution have been observed , studied and reported in research all over the world for the past 50 years. These effects include respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, changes in lung function, and death. There is research evidence that exposure to air pollution has long-term effects on lung development in children.

According World Health Organization (WHO) 3 million people are killed worldwide by air pollution annually from auto and industrial emissions, and 1.6 million people die due to indoor air pollution caused by using solid fuel. Most of them in developing countries.

How Air Pollution happens?

Air pollution occurs when the air contains gases, dust, fumes or odor in harmful amounts. That is, amounts which could be harmful to the health or of humans and animals or which could cause damage to plants and materials.

What is a pollutant?
The substances that cause air pollution are called pollutants. Pollutants that are pumped into our atmosphere and directly pollute the air are called primary pollutants. Primary pollutant examples include carbon monoxide from car exhausts and sulfur dioxide from the combustion of coal.

What are main Air Pollutants?

Main Pollutants are CO2 ( carbon Dioxide), CO ( carbon monoxide), NOx( Nitric oxide ( No), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), N2O Nitrous oxide,, Sulfur, and chlorofluorocarbons.

What is Smog?

Smog is created by burning of coal and heavy oil that contain sulfur impurities and  is produced mainly by power plants and industries. The smog consists mostly of a mixture of sulfur dioxide and fog. Suspended droplets of sulfuric acid are formed from some of the sulfur dioxide, and a variety of suspended solid particles. This smog is common during the winter in cities such as Delhi, Beijing, London, Chicago, etc.

Watch Video on Air Pollution


 Following is the list of some of the pollutants and their source and Health effects


Air Pollutant


Human Health Effects

Air Particle Index

  • Cars and trucks

  • Fires.

  • Industry 

  • Wood Burning

  • Cigarettes


  • Lung Cancer

  • Heart Disease

  • Lung Disease

  • Asthma Attacks

NOx (Nitrogen Dioxide, Nitric oxide)

  • Vehicles such as cars and trucks

  • Combustion

  • Lungs problem 

  • Respiratory Diseases Such as asthma and other respiratory complications


CO Carbon Monoxide

Motor vehicle emissions, burning of coal, oil and wood.

Carbon Monoxide inside our body can disrupts the supply of oxygen to the body’s tissues. Can cause Death.



Chemical reactions involving the exposure of the oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons.

Ozone is the main ingredient of photochemical smog in summer and early autumn.

  • Lung Damage

  • Respiratory tract problems

  • Eye irritation.


Ozone also damages plants, and buildings.

Lead (Pb)

Combustion of lead additives in motor fuels as well as lead smelting.

Lead pollution from auto emissions is declining due to use of unleaded fuels.

Other atmospheric sources of lead include waste incineration and renovation of old houses.

Lead retards learning in children and the development of their nervous system;

Lead effects almost every organ in the body, whether it is inhaled or ingested. Young children are particularly susceptible;

HC Hydro-carbons  - chemical compounds composed of Hydrogen and Carbon atoms

Fuel combustion processes result in the release of hydro carbons to the environment. The largest fuel sources are natural gas and petrol.

Headaches or nausea,  some compounds may cause cancer.

How you can help  reduce outdoor air pollution?

You can help to reduce global air pollution and climate change by making simple changes in your life style. Buy a car which is a hybrid car or battery operated or buy a car which gets at least 35 miles a gallon. Walk or bicycle to work instead of driving, and use mass transit or car pooling whenever possible. Learn more about how you can help by clicking here

Indoor air pollution:

Other major threat is indoor air pollution. Canadians and Americans generally spend more than 90% of our time indoors. Exposure to indoor pollutants can have a considerable health impact on individuals  According to EPA studies indoor levels of pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. The problem is so severe that the environmental Protection Agency currently lists poor indoor air quality as the fourth largest environmental threat in the United States.

Indoor Pollutants 

Biological: Indoor pollutants are molds, bacteria, viruses, pollen, dust mites,  In office buildings, heating, cooling, and ventilation systems are frequent sources of biological substances that are inhaled, leading to breathing problems.

1. Chemical:

Radon: Radon is a naturally occurring gas. Radon can enter the home through cracks in the foundation and walls or drains. Indoor radon exposure is estimated to be the second largest leading cause of lung cancer in United States.

Carbon Monoxide: is an odorless, colorless gas. Can accumulate in our homes due to fuel burning stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, heaters, water heaters etc. If inhaled  can lead to confusion, worsen cardiovascular disease,  headache, nausea, and dizziness. In very high levels it can cause sudden death.

Nitrogen dioxide:  is also colorless, odorless gas. If inhaled can cause shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure to high levels of this gas can damage respiratory tissue and may cause chronic bronchitis.

Asbestos: Asbestos is found in roofing and flooring materials, pipe insulation, cement, coating products, insulation materials etc. Asbestos fibers are very light and small once inhaled they can  can cause asbestosis and  lung cancer.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is found primarily in adhesive or bonding agents and used in materials found in every home and office, plywood paneling, carpets,  particle board etc. Formaldehyde can cause headache and dizziness.

2. Biological:

Main biological pollutants are molds, bacteria, viruses, pollens etc. In Home school and office buildings, heating, cooling, and ventilation systems are frequent sources of biological substances, Once inhaled these can cause variety of respiratory problems such Asthma and cardiovascular diseases.

Solutions to Indoor Air pollution:

Install and use fans vented to outdoors in kitchens and bathrooms. Clean trays of air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators frequently. Clean and dry or remove water-damaged carpets. Whatever you buy or install at home be careful of what it contains, or might release to indoor air. Buy more green products which are environmental friendly.  Keep your home well ventelated.





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